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Why technology firms don’t get business

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For too long, I’ve worked in the tech industry. I realised this when talking with a friend about the ways in which most tech firms get it wrong.  He was lamenting the fact that the dialogue I have around things like Social Finance, SEPA and the PSD, MiFID and more is very business oriented, and he couldn’t see how his sales guys would “GET IT” as they all focus on speeds and feeds.

My response?

You need more balance.

Y'see, there are two types of people in most technology firms, and two types of organisational structure.

The two types of people tend to be product marketers versus business marketers, and product sales people versus relationship sales people.

The two types of organisational structure: a horizontal structure for the product people and a vertical structure for the business oriented people that is industry aligned.

In both cases, the former - product and horizontal structures - focus on the internal capabilities of the technology organisation.  The latter - relationship sales and vertical structures - focus on the external needs of the industry and the customer.

Obviously you need both or you’ll fail, but too many IT companies have one dominate over the other and, as a result, they are imbalanced.  And yes, you guessed it, it's normally the internally-aligned product group that dominates.

Take marketing.

Most technology firm's marketing departments have everyone talking about feature, function, specification and operation.

They are technical product marketing people.

They know their products inside out.

But they have no idea why a customer would buy one or what the business benefits were.

That’s where business and industry marketing need to step in.

Working with the real world of the industry and business environments of their customers, these people understand why people purchase the product in terms of its business application and benefits.

And yet it surprises me that many technology firms have people around in Marketing who don’t get that, because they are all skewed towards products and features rather than markets and customers ... but hey-ho, no matter.

Then we move to sales.

A lot of technology firms have everyone geared to quarterly targets by products and they sell those products like crazy.

And yet some products, such as workflow automation, involves far more business application understanding and ‘solution’ selling.

Therefore, in order to sell these products, you need sales people with business understanding of the customers' processes, and most sales people don't have that experience or knowledge unless they have worked with the industry they are selling into.

And most people who have worked in the industry may be good relationship managers but product sales people?  They don't stand a chance, because they don't have the technical background to understand the speeds and feeds.

This is why you need both.

The relationship developer and the product sales manager.

This is especially true when talking about ‘solutions’.

How can you be confident of walking into a manager’s office at a large bank and telling them how your technology can automate their business processes if you have no idea how their business works?

You see, the priority of a solutions sale is to get a trust, a relationship, an understanding and a credibility with the client before trying to sell them speeds and feeds.

Once the client trusts that the technology company understands their business, they are more than happy to then have the hardware boys and girls come and talk to the techies about speeds and feeds.

And there’s the rub you see.

The fact is that you need both.

You need product marketers and business solutions people.

You need relationship builders and speeds and feeds folks.

The problem some technology firms have is that they are full of product marketing and sales people with zero business understanding or relationship building capability.

To be honest, you need to ask: how many people in your organisation really understand the horizontal and vertical integration of the sales and marketing structure?  And are they in the right balance?

That’s what I’m really talking about here.

Horizontal structures need product people who focus on feature, function, spec, speeds and feeds.

Vertical structures need solutions people who focus on the customer’s business and business benefits, business case, return on investment, operational usage and their customer’s business strategy.

Too often, firms have only half of the equation, which is why they fail to get the maximum advantage in the industries they serve that they could achieve if they just worked on their language better.

You see, too often, it is lost in translation.

Postscript: I could just as easily have been talking about bank's IT versus line of business management

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Chris Skinner Author Avatar

Chris M Skinner

Chris Skinner is best known as an independent commentator on the financial markets through his blog,, as author of the bestselling book Digital Bank, and Chair of the European networking forum the Financial Services Club. He has been voted one of the most influential people in banking by The Financial Brand (as well as one of the best blogs), a FinTech Titan (Next Bank), one of the Fintech Leaders you need to follow (City AM, Deluxe and Jax Finance), as well as one of the Top 40 most influential people in financial technology by the Wall Street Journal's Financial News. To learn more click here...

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